Afternoon Crank: Showbox Landmarked, “Freelance Bill of Rights” Booster Uses Freelance Labor

1. The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted unanimously last night to designate the downtown Showbox building a historical landmark, after dozens of speakers spoke in favor of the move using the usual combination of hyperbole (one speaker compared the two-story building on First Avenue to “the manger where Jesus was born), cheeseball sincerity (the crowd sang backup while singer Mark Taylor-Canfield went way over time with his “Save the Showbox” song), and insistence that the building, which has been heavily altered throughout its history, is an “irreplaceable” cathedral of music along the lines of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville or Carnegie Hall.

Jack McCullough, the attorney for the Showbox building owners, argued during his presentation opposing the landmark nomination that the “history” that “Save the Showbox” proponents want to preserve took place in very recent history, during the late ’90s, rather than in the preceding 60 years, when the building was heavily altered and frequently shuttered. “If we were sitting here 20 years ago would we be having this conversation?” McCullough asked rhetorically. “The building had been a pastiche of other things for the past 60 years. … Really, what we’re talking about here is what has occurred in this reconstructed building in the last 20 years.”

The vote was a foregone conclusion—one board member, Russell Comey, showed up with a poem he’d written that began “Showbox forever” and bowed to the applauding audience after the vote—but the future of the Showbox building is not.

Although many of the (unanimously pro-landmarking) public commenters made a point to mention Duke Ellington’s stint there during the segregated 1940s (according to the Seattle Daily Times archives, Ellington played at several other clubs in town during that decade, including the Civic Ice Arena and the Palomar), many of the speakers also inadvertently proved McCullough’s point, by name-dropping bands that played there during the grunge era, like Soundgarden and Nirvana. “That thing you’re feeling is a combination of hopes and dreams, milestones and history,” one commenter told the landmark board. “It’s impossible to replicate these kinds of spaces.”

The vote was a foregone conclusion—one board member, Russell Comey, showed up with a poem he’d written that began “Showbox forever” and bowed to the applauding audience after the vote—but the future of the Showbox building is not. As I reported  last month, the owners of the building (who originally planned to build apartments on the property, which the city recently rezoned for that explicit purpose) have terminated Showbox operator AEG Presents’  lease when it ends at the beginning of 2024,  and recently won a major victory in their lawsuit challenging legislation that put the Showbox building inside the Pike Place Market Historical District, severely restricting its future use. Landmarking places controls on the building, but not on its use; a landmarked building can still be torn down or used for a different purpose. To “Save the Showbox,” at this point, will likely require a group to raise tens of millions of dollars to purchase the land from its owner, who has valued the property at around $40 million. Historic Seattle, which has expressed an interest in buying the property, has not yet indicated how or whether it plans to raise that kind of money.

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2. Shaun Scott, a Democratic Socialists of America member running for city council in District 4 (Northeast Seattle), has proposed a “freelancers’ bill of rights” that would guarantee  new rights to independent contractors and gig workers, including a written employment contract, pay within 30 days, portable benefits, and a ban on non-compete clauses guaranteeing that they won’t work for a competitor within the same market. “Gig economy workers deserve the same rights as unionized employees and laborers in traditional fields,” Scott said in the announcement.  In addition to the issues that would be addressed by the “bill of rights,” freelancers also pay both employer and employee taxes, usually pay for health care out-of-pocket, and don’t have access to unemployment benefits or L&I compensation. (Full disclosure: As a freelancer, I know all of this from experience.)

It was somewhat surprising, then, to learn that instead of hiring his campaign staffers on a permanent basis and offering them all those benefits, Scott himself is using independent contractors for much of his campaign work. Scott says his staff are all paid “at least $16 an hour” and are currently “in the middle of unionizing, having just submitted their letter of recognition asking me to recognize their bargaining unit in affiliation with the Campaign Workers Guild.”

It was somewhat surprising, then, to learn that instead of hiring his campaign staffers on a permanent basis , Scott himself is using independent contractors for much of his campaign work. Scott says his staff are all paid “at least $16 an hour” and are currently “in the middle of unionizing, having just submitted their letter of recognition asking me to recognize their bargaining unit in affiliation with the Campaign Workers Guild.” (The election is on August 6.)

Scott says that all his campaign staffers are paid “at least $16 an hour,” that the two full-time campaign workers have vacation benefits, and that “everyone is eligible for transit and data reimbursements that will hopefully become even more robust after demands are presented and we agree on a contract.” Scott’s campaign finance reports only show one expenditure on transit (a $10 Sound Transit light-rail ticket), and none for data reimbursement or cell phone costs. They do include more than $2,200 spent on Lyft.

“Campaign work can be just as grueling and uncertain as freelance work in the arts, tech, and journalism,” Scott says. “If progressive campaigns can’t support their own workers, they will be in no position to truly advocate for the broader labor community.”

3 thoughts on “Afternoon Crank: Showbox Landmarked, “Freelance Bill of Rights” Booster Uses Freelance Labor”

  1. Hey Erica,

    I did not expect you to say “Hurrah” about the landmarking ruling, but am still surprised how heavily you lean on furthering the developers argument and, to not put too fine a point on it, mocking the supporters and the Board. I did learn something though from this, so there is journalism as well salting a sore. So AEG can run the Showbox until 2024? Huh. Does this mean a replacement cannot come online until then, or somebody has to sue to end the contract? If not, why the ef are density advocates even bothering with this discussion. Any contribution to a low-income housing then is five years or more down the road and, in these times, that is so speculative as to be stupid. First Avenue could just as be stuck with a hole in the ground and the loss of a good performance venue jn building that is a palimpsest of downtown Seattle. It is called “gomi” and it is the Seattle Way. Density regardless of cost is MidTown Manhattan, full speed ahead, Way. Eventually that worked at least for some folk but it did not make NYC more affordable.

    Keep doing good work. Having been in and covered meetings inscrutable to outsiders i appreciate the work that goes into it. But those who are invested in the city’s musical history are not restricted to local bands and music clerks. These pieces feel vaguely anti-art to me. And making art compete with affordability, that is what the Powers That Be want. Helps to have 13 when Reagan was elected I guess.

    Regards,
    Robert

  2. It looks like there is duplication between several paragraphs at the bottom. Some of the sentenced are duplicates.

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